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Friday - Shabbat May 1 - 2, 2009

Torah Reading: Acharei-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27)
Candle Lighting time: 7:34 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:39 PM
Pirkei Avot - Chapter 3

Where's The Paradox?

It may be suggested that the paradoxical nature of Torah is reflected in the double-parsha phenomenon.  Among the fifty-three portions of the Five Books of Moses, there are fourteen that are combined in certain years. The reason for this is that since a Jewish calendar year has only about fifty weeks—and there are 53 portions—some of them have to be combined to facilitate the completion of the entire Five Books of Moses in the course of a year. This week is one of those weeks where two parshiyot that have been combined, Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim.

People often wonder why only certain Torah portions are combined and others are never combined. What is unique about the Parshahs that get paired with others, as happens this week?


One possible answer is that, as was just mentioned, most of the double Torah readings appear to have paradoxical names and themes. By combining these readings, our tradition wishes to instill in us the idea that Judaism is all about paradoxes. The challenge of Judaism is to be multifaceted in our pursuit of G‑d’s will.


Let us illustrate the way one of the double portions represent the synthesis of opposites and then we will examine this week’s double parsha as well. 


The first double parsha is Vayakheil-Pikudei (appearing at the end of Exodus.) Its paradoxical nature is glaring:


Vayakheil means “And he gathered,” which emphasizes the idea of collectivism and community, whereas the name Pikudei means “accounting,” which stresses the importance of details and individuality.


Similarly, all of the other double parhsahs convey paradoxical messages, with the apparent exception of this week’s double parshah. (For the details of how the other double parshahs convey paradoxical messages, see below*)


Of all the double portions, our parshah of Acharei-Kedoshim does not seem to fit into the paradoxical pattern.


The first parsha entitled “Acharei-Mot” means “after the death,” referring to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s elder sons who perished because they brought an unauthorized offering at the dedication ceremony of the Sanctuary.


Kedoshim Tihyu—the opening words of the second parsha this week—is rendered, “You shall be holy.”


At first glance these two names and their themes are not opposites; indeed, they are closely intertwined. Nadav and Avihu’s death was caused by their desire to be more holy. They wanted to get closer to G‑d.  They were ascetics who wanted very little to be part of this physical existence, and in their zeal to get closer to G‑d their souls left their bodies and were reunited with their Creator. Isn’t this synonymous with holiness? Can one whose soul is consumed with a passionate fire for the sublime be characterized as anything but holy?


In truth, Judaism’s conception of holiness is diametrically opposite the conventional approach and understanding of the term.


To understand this concept, let’s present two personalities; the first meditates and prays all day; is oblivious to his surroundings etc. The second is a savvy businessman who is scrupulous in his business dealings, tithes his earnings and sets aside time every day to pray and study some Torah.


If we were to ask people who they think is holier, we can expect most to say that while the second person might be more beneficial to society, the first person is certainly more holy. Others, sensitive to Jewish values, might demur slightly and maintain that the businessman is also holy in addition to contributing more to G‑d’s plan for the world. But even these people would concede that on a scale from one to ten, the meditating spiritualist is a ten in terms of holiness, while the businessman might barely eke out a five.


Torah teaches us that the opposite is true. The definition of holiness—or, at least, the Hebrew word kedushah—is to be separated, utterly detached. When a person is in a spiritual place—such as in times of prayer and meditation—they are indeed separated from the mundane. However, the Torah portion of Kedoshim begins with the admonition: “You shall be holy.” More precisely the translation should read: “Introduce holiness within the parameters of who you are.” In other words, the object of being holy is not leaving this worldly existence, even temporarily, but it is to be totally yourself and simultaneously being totally holy, apart, detached and other-worldly.


How is this synthesis possible? Aren’t these two opposite mindsets? We can understand how one can alternate between the spiritual journey of the soul out of this physical world and then, the process of returning to this world. In Kabbalistic jargon this process is called “ratzo v’shov-advance and retreat.” But, how is it possible for one to be simultaneously in this world and out of it?


The answer is provided for in the conclusion of the verse: “for I am holy.”


G‑d has no limits. G‑d can combine opposites. He can be in this world even as He is above and beyond it. And it is that G‑dly power that we also possess that enables us to be G‑dly-holy, meaning: we can soar above the world even as we remain firmly ensconced within it. The businessman while he is fully engaged in his business and follows the Torah laws that impact his business such as, observing the Shabbat, dealing honestly and with integrity, giving tzedakah etc., is simultaneously and seamlessly in a higher world.


But the question still persists. How can we compare ourselves, mere mortals, to G‑d? For G‑d, obviously, it is not difficult to be transcendent and immanent at the same time. But how do we do that?


The answer is provided for in the end of the verse:  “I am G‑d your G‑d.”


The Torah is essentially saying: You can be holy because I am holy, and that is because: “I am G‑d your G‑d.”


To understand how this answers this question, we must retranslate the words “I am G‑d your G‑d” just cited: The original Hebrew is far more nuanced than that, and could yield the following retranslation: “I, who transcends the parameters of time and space, have become your life-force and inner vitality. I G‑d have introduced Myself to you and have become internalized within you.”


And if you shall ask, how does this process occur? Is there some type of revelation that takes place when G‑d enters us?


To dispel this notion, the Torah thus continues: “Each person shall revere his mother and father.” It is a totally natural process. One does not have to go through a ceremony for it to happen. It is part of the process of birth. As the Talmud teaches: Each one of us has three partners in our creation, a father, a mother and G‑d. Our parents give us our bodies and G‑d infuses it with a divine soul. Therefore, we must have reverence for our parents since they are G‑d’s partners in our creation. Furthermore, it is through them that G‑d enters into this partnership.


And the Torah thus continues: “And observe my Sabbaths, I am G‑d your G‑d.” You must revere your parents because they are My partners. And just as you must revere parents, you must show that you appreciate that there is a third partner. And the most dramatic way to show that is by observing the Shabbat, which is testimony to G‑d’s role and involvement in this world


This is the essence of Judaism. To bring the other-worldly into the world that we inhabit. And it is a process and a union that began at Sinai and will be “consummated” in the Messianic Age. This message is conveyed very well in the Parshah of kedoshim. The message of Acharei is quite the opposite: avoid the aesethic lifestyle of Nadav and Avihu and don’t mistranslate their approach as a form of Jewish Holiness.


Maimonides, thus describes the Messianic Age—the age when Judaism’s vision for an ideal G‑dly world will take hold permanently—as a time when there needs not be any supernatural changes. He also states that the Moshiach—the Jewish leader who will usher in this age—need not perform miracles to demonstrate that he is the Moshiach. Why is that?


If Moshiach and the Messianic Age hinged on the supernatural, it would negate the whole idea of holiness that is all about the synthesis of the other-worldly with the worldly.


This does not mean that we do not believe in miracles or that miracles will not happen. It certainly does not suggest that miracles that have been performed by G‑d in the past were anything but expressions of G‑d’s power and kindness. Miracles that did defy the laws and conventions of nature were intended for a specific goal, such as saving the Jews, or to jolt us out of our reverie. Moreover, when miracles occur the ultimate objective is that they become assimilated into the framework of natural reality. When miracles “fit” in and become part of everyday life they do not negate the purpose of existence; they add spice to it and enhance it.


Judaism can thus be described as the synthesis of the miraculous and the natural.

Moshiach Matters

“Some people might wonder, ‘Since Moshiach is coming any minute, what will be with all of my accomplishments done during the Exile - what about the businesses I built up? The property I have acquired? The contacts I made and developed?’ In truth, there is no reason for concern. Moshiach is not coming to negate any of our positive accomplishments. Redemption will include and elevate all of the good things we have done during the exile.” (The Rebbe, Acharei-Kedoshim, 1991)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue.
For more info, visit


*Note: The paradoxical nature of the remaining double parhsahs of the Torah


The second “twin” Torah portion was last week’s parsha: Tazria-Metzora. Tazria means “conceives” which represents the beginning of life, whereas Metzora is the person afflicted with a skin condition that renders a person ritually unclean. The Metzora was quarantined and kept out of the community. Indeed, the Metzora has been regarded by our Sages as if he were dead. This can be attributed to the fact that he was not a part of communal life. These two portions represent the idea of vitality and involvement on the one hand, and passivity and disconnection on the other. Both of these extremes canbe useful at different times.


The fourth (the third is this week’s parsha which is discussed above) “doubleheader” is Behar-Bechukotai, which means “on the mountain” and “the laws etched in stone,” respectively. A mountain protrudes and is above ground. Things that are etched and engraved are indented and are beneath the surface. Again, two opposites: pride and humility.


The fifth double parsha is Chukat-Balak. Chukat refers to the ultimate supra-rational Divine command, while Balak is the name of the Moabite king, who hired Bilam to curse the Jewish nation. Balak was one of the most depraved haters of Israel, whose name has been interpreted to mean “he came to lick the blood of Israel.” Balak’s irrational hatred of Jews was the opposite of the supra-rational commandment discussed in this parsha. This duality suggests that we must even find meaning in the lowest experiences of life, and we must elevate the lowest into the highest.


The sixth doublet is Matot-Masei. Matot literally means ‘staffs.” And it refers to the tribes of Israel who are likened to rigid staffs, whereas Masei means “the journeys” expressing the notion of constant change and flexibility. There are things in life such as our principles and convictions that must never change. Yet a human being must constantly grow and evolve from strength to strength.


The seventh and final double parsha is Netzavim-Vayeilech. Nitzvaim implies standing firmly in one place, whereas Vayeilech translates as “And he walked,” indicating the very opposite of standing firm. There are times when we must stand firm and resolute and other times that we must be flexible and yield.

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